Networking is neither building a network of contacts nor using a contact management system to keep in touch with people you know. Networking efforts fail, as they are usually misunderstood in terms of vision, strategy, tactics, and tools. To be effective, those efforts should be based on a sound personal branding strategy, and should be backed authentically by common interests, values, and causes in the medium or long run. Common interests are, for instance, the key driver of powerful associations, unions, and even virtual groups in social networks.
Interests can be around financial, personal development, or recognition aspects. They may also be about leisure activities and hobbies. In the last case, some of you may question the extent to which mixing up the personal and professional spheres, is bad or good. Mixing or not those spheres is a question of each one’s personality and personal ability to ensure the right balance. In any case, we should recognize that formal vs informal and personal vs professional interactions are always key to business success. You should certainly be aware that many strategic corporate decisions are made in golf greens, during 5-to-8 after work coffee/restaurant gatherings, or during other leisure activities. This is a definite truth.
Networking strategy is a major pillar of a personal branding vision. The later is, in short, how each of us sets up the competitive advantage relying behind the value we provide to people we interact with in the personal and professional spheres. The perception of such value is about arguing how your experiences, skills, and academic background can help others achieve their own goals. The value of your personal branding makes people trust working & communicating with you, buying in your ideas, purchasing your products, or, at least, dedicating time to listen to you. Making your networking efforts build your personal brand is a long run effort that definitely should start with convincing yourself about your achievements before trying to convince your network that your are the person you pretend to be.
Networking tactics are about influence and not about transactional give-and-take. Influencing a network of contacts is a question of political and smart communication skills. It is more like pushing people to build your personal brand and attracting business to you indirectly. This is through recommending you, your work, and or achievements to other people, then, eventually by ‘coaching’ you and feeling that they take a part/or own responsibility of your success. Tactical influence should be built through reciprocation, scarcity, authority, consistency, social proof, and liking. Those six pillars are your great weapons of influence as advised by Robert Cialdini in his worldwide best seller book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”.
Finally, Networking tools are basically your personal ‘CRM’ or ‘Customer Management System’ that drives the way you keep the information about your contacts up-to-date and accurate. Such tools need also to be consistent communication and interaction channels in one-to-one and one-to-many basis. Contact management systems, professional social networks, and email marketing tools are the portfolio that you need to master and harvest in the day-to-day manner. However, keep in mind that those are only tools that loose value of not used along with genuine networking vision, strategy and tactics.